Juke and Loe, 617 Ecclesall Rd, Sheffield S11 8PT (0114 268 0271, jukeandloe.com). Lunch – two courses £25, three courses £30. Dinner – starters £14-£16, mains £24-£30, desserts £10. Wines from £24
It is time to address the most pressing question of the age: when going out to eat during the week, which is better, lunch or dinner? The arguments for dinner are cheerfully robust. The working day is at an end, so we are not dodging important jobs like pretending to study a vital spreadsheet while actually watching hilarious reels on Instagram of dogs being shocked by their own farts. Mostly we are not dodging our own puritan guilt. We are free to show the wine list some truly grown-up, adult love.
There are downsides, however. Restaurants make their real money in the evenings, hence that’s when the bigger prices are charged. We do not begrudge them that. In return for the extra dosh, you get the more developed, filigreed expression of the kitchen’s art. There will be more stuff on the plate. This is either a positive or a negative, depending on taste. If the restaurant is especially popular, tables will be harder to come by and you’ll have to bash the online booking form furiously in the hope of finding a civilised slot. Finally, there is the issue of a restful night’s sleep. It’s simply harder to kip on a stomach full of over-ordered sharing plates and a barrel full of the second cheapest lousy merlot on the list. The struggle is real.
What of lunch? You have more time to digest, of course. Sleep comes easier. Plus, the real bargains are found at lunchtime: it’s when the grand places offer their cheap but extremely cheerful menus. One of the bleaker moments of the pandemic, for those too interested in their bellies, was the decision by Le Gavroche to close at lunchtime because of staff shortages. The three-course lunch menu there, including half a bottle of very good wine, petits fours and service, was legendary. At the point it was discontinued it was £76, which is a slab of anyone’s cash. Then again, the full high-kicking lineup in the evening can easily be double that or more, so much more.
Of course, that bargain can quickly be cancelled out by having to take the day off work to facilitate the decadence of a cheaper weekday lunch. Although there is the sweet, groinal twinge of the illicit that comes with shouting, “Sod it, I’ll have another bottle of that delightful Chablis. What do you mean, it’s 2pm on a Wednesday?” God, but it’s complicated. At which point I must acknowledge, as ever, the stupid privilege of my job which not only allows me to visit Sheffield to discover the joys of Juke & Loe at lunchtime, but actually requires me to do so. There, two courses are £25 and three, £30 as against around £50 in the evening. It’s a small bistro, a couple of miles from the city centre, run by two brothers, Luke and Joseph Grayson. I assume the name is a sweet spoonerism of their first names.
That lunch menu, currently served only on Fridays and Saturdays, has three choices at each course: one meat, one fish, one vegetarian. Initially I thought I had travelled some distance to be fed something merely solid but unshowy. To start there was a perfectly competent plate of salt and chilli squid with mayonnaise enriched by the briny hit of oysters. There was a crispy duck salad with cucumber and orange, which recalled the version created by Gary Lee at the Ivy when it was still good.
Then the mains came along and it stepped far beyond solid to become something delightful and impressive. It’s the sort of cookery that makes you pause, mid-conversation, and study the plate. A milky white fillet of precisely cooked plaice has been rolled in on itself. It sits on a thick, glossy beurre blanc, perky with lemon and studded with capers. Butter and reduced white wine have been beaten together until they have surrendered and become firm friends. There is a good sprinkling of chives. On the side there’s a bowl of buttery new potatoes. Bliss.
The other main is a braised beef cheek that has miraculously kept its shape despite having been cooked until, like a highly strung cabaret artiste, it is waiting to fall apart completely. It comes with one of those lip-smacking meaty sauces that was meant to go out of fashion sometime around 1984, but never got the memo. It’s a joy to pour on to the plate. With it is a hefty canoe of powerfully dressed cos lettuce leaves. It’s described as an ox tongue Caesar salad. It doesn’t dishonour the name. With it are well-made chips under a truffled mayo.
There’s nothing coy or understated about any of this. It’s bold cooking designed to satisfy rather than impress with its own cleverness. It all reminds me of the crowd-pleasing but luxurious food at Gary Usher’s Elite Bistros further to the west: places like Kala in Manchester and Burnt Truffle in Heswall. The essentials of each dish have been understood and then built upon. But they know exactly when to stop. Desserts are equally delightful. A dome of honey parfait comes dribbled with more honey, and ringed by pieces of honeycomb and cubes of soft honey cake; a shiny oblong of a chocolate delice is stabbed by slices of caramelised white chocolate and is accompanied by a scoop of white chocolate ice-cream.
Despite having written a ribald hymn in praise of lunchtime drinking, neither of us do so today. He has a car to drive; I have a train to catch and I do so hate dribbling down the windows. That said, the short list – a bit of the old world, a bit of the new – is priced to make it seem like a really good idea. There’s nothing beyond a Paxton Shiraz from Australia at £39.
So what of the evening menu? Well yes, it’s slightly longer and more expensive, though there is also more ambition. In the current version the squid starter comes with a hot and sour squid consommé, the braised beef cheek main is joined on the plate by an ox tongue boudin. I’m sure the simple room with its stripped floorboards and picture window on to the street, will do the business at night. I’m sure it’s lovely. But I can tell you that on a Friday lunchtime, if you can slack off from work and tell yourself all the good self-justifying stories and seriously investigate your inner louche, it’s also a very nice place to be. Today, I win at lunch.
Cardiff-based Matsudai Ramen, which delivers ramen kits nationwide, has joined forces with noodle meister Tim Anderson, to create a kit with proceeds going to charity. Together they have developed a kit version of Anderson’s Lazy Goat Ragu-Men, named London’s best dish by Time Out in 2018 when it was served at Anderson’s then restaurant Nanban. It includes curried goat, handmade noodles and scotch bonnet-infused bamboo shoots. The kits will be available from 18 February for two weeks and will cost £13.99 each, with money raised going to Cardiff Mind and Mosaic Brixton (matsudai.co.uk).
Meanwhile in London, Claude Bosi, chef-patron of the multi-Michelin starred Bibendum, is also expanding. He has announced plans to open Socca Bistro on South Audley Street in Mayfair. It will take its inspiration from the culinary traditions of the French Riviera and is a collaboration with restaurateur Samyukta Nair, who is behind Bombay Bustle and MiMi Mei Fair. Socca should open in the summer.
Well known publican and restaurateur Piers Baker of the Sun Inn in Dedham, has acquired the White Hart Inn on Mersea Island, Essex, a renowned area of pilgrimage for oyster lovers everywhere. The pub, which has been closed since 2013, is undergoing a refurbishment and will, according to Baker, cater “for everything from a casual pint to a special dinner”.